07/18/08 7:01 PM ET
Skid a wake-up call for second half
Rays look to rebound by improving fielding, road play
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
With the first half behind them, they can put aside their seven-game losing streak -- as well as the fact they are 16 games over .500 and half a game out of first place in the American League East.
Now it's time to get back to business.
"We just have to do the same things we did in the first half," center fielder B.J. Upton said. "I don't think there's really that much to turn around. We just had a bad skid. It's behind us, over with. ... We had four days to relax and get back to playing baseball the way we know how."
If the Rays are going to right the ship and resume playing like they did for most of the first half, several elements will have to shift in their favor.
First and foremost is their fielding, which has taken a swan dive of late. The Rays made just 30 errors over their first 71 games, going 42-29. But from games 72 through 94, they made 24 errors and were 13-10.
"The defense really has not been as good, not been as airtight as it had been," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "For us to get back to where we had been, I think defense is going to be big."
Offensively, the Rays have struggled for most of the season, but during their seven-game losing streak they hit just .187 and managed five hits in 53 at-bats with runners in scoring position. The result was predictable: 13 total runs.
"Everybody's been waiting for us to hit," left fielder Carl Crawford said. "We've shown signs of being good hitters at times, and then we just kind of fade off a little. So the second half, hopefully we can pick it up on the offensive end a little bit better. I still don't understand why it didn't happen in the first half."
Finally, the Rays are going to have to leave the friendly air-conditioned confines of Tropicana Field -- where they went 36-11 in the first half -- and win some games on the road -- where they went 21-29. They have just 31 home games remaining on their schedule, with 37 on the road.
"To get to where we want to be, we have to be able to win on the road and win in some tough ballparks to play in -- Yankee Stadium [where they are 2-6] and Fenway [0-6]," Upton said.
The way the first half ended sent a message to the Rays.
"It was a wake-up call a little bit," Crawford said. "[It] kind of let us know that we're a good team, but we've still got a long way to go."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.